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The spiritual embryo

"Man seems to have two embryonic periods. One is prenatal, like that of the animals; the other is postnatal and only man has this."
The Absorbent Mind
. p.55, Chapter 7

Newly born human beings are particularly vulnerable to their environment. They remain reliant on others for an extraordinarily long period of time, unlike other young mammals that can, within a short period after birth, stand, walk and find food for themselves. Animals have fixed and pre-determined guiding instincts that dictate their development. Human children alone are given free will to move away from their instincts. Each child, therefore, is given the possibility of becoming a unique individual in his own right. Montessori recognized that children held within them the key to the development of their own personalities and that the sensitivity that they were born with exposed them to unique dangers. She felt that they were born with a spiritual nature that had an innate expectation of freedom, warmth and love and that it was of great importance that they experienced these qualities in order to feel secure. At such a young age she saw that the child didn't simply remember his experiences, but he actually formed himself through them. "The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul." (The Absorbent Mind. p 56, Chap 7).

She saw this particular absorbent quality of human beings as being the single most important feature of their development:

"On this, the whole of our study is based." "It follows that the newborn child has to do a piece of formative work which corresponds in the psychological sphere to the one just done by the embryo in the physical sphere. Before him there is a period of life different from that which he led in the womb; yet still unlike that of the man he is to become."
The Absorbent Mind p. 55, Chap 7

Quotations

"Man seems to have two embryonic periods. One is prenatal, like that of the animals; the other is postnatal and only man has this."
The Absorbent Mind. p.55, Chap 7

"If the work of man on the earth is related to his spirit, to his creative intelligence, then his spirit and his intelligence must be the fulcrum of his existence, and all the workings of his body. About this fulcrum his behaviour is organised, and even his physical economy. The whole man develops within a kind of spiritual halo."
Ibid p.56, Chap 7

"The first care given to the newborn babe - overriding all others- must be a care for his mental life and not just for his bodily life, which is the rule today."
Ibid p 56, Chap 7

"Adults admire the environment; they can remember it and things about it; but the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear."
Ibid p.56, Chap 7

"The child does not 'remember' sounds, but he incarnates them and can then produce them to perfection."
Ibid p 57, Chap 7

"Every personal trait absorbed by the child becomes fixed forever, and even if reason later disclaims it, something of it remains in the subconscious mind. For nothing that is formed in infancy can ever be wholly eradicated."
Ibid p 60, Chap 7

"To be forced to adapt suddenly to an environment totally different from the one in which he has been living, to be obliged to assume on the spot functions never before exercised, and to do this in the unspeakably exhausted state in which he finds himself - this is the hardest and most dramatic test in the whole of a man's life."
Ibid p.62, Chap 7

"There must come into being a special code of rules, exacting and precise, for the treatment of the child at birth and in the first few days following birth."
Ibid p 75, Chap 7

"The very fact that a child is not subject to fixed and pre-determined guiding instincts is an indication of its innate liberty and freedom of action."
The Secret of Childhood p.31, Chap 6

"An animal is like an object that has been mass produced. Each individual possesses the special characteristics of its particular species. A Man, on the other hand, is like an object turned out by hand. Each one is different from the other. Every man has his own creative spirit that makes him a work of art."
Ibid p.31, Chap 6

"This fashioning of the human personality is a secret work of 'incarnation'. The child is an enigma. All that we know is that he has the highest potentialities, but we do not know what he will be. He must 'become incarnate' with the help of his own will."
Ibid p.32, Chap 6

"Men have never had complete confidence in nature since the guiding principle for human development is a personal energy contained within the child. The child's psychic life is independent of, precedes, and vitalizes every exterior activity."
Ibid p.32, Chap 6

"A man is capable of becoming anything, and his apparent helplessness as a child is the seedbed of his distinctive personality."
Ibid p.33, Chap 6

"A child has within himself the key to his own personality, if he has a plan of development and laws to be observed, these must be delicate powers indeed, and an adult by his untimely interventions can prevent their secret realization." Ibid p.34, Chap 6

"From time immemorial men, through their interference with these natural laws, have hindered the divine plan for children and, as a consequence, God's plan for men themselves."
Ibid p.34, Chap 6

"One of the great problems facing men is their failure to recognize the fact that a child possesses an active psychic life even when he cannot manifest it, and that the child must secretly perfect this inner life over a long period of time."
Ibid p.34, Chap 6

"The child becoming incarnate is a spiritual embryo which needs its own special environment. Just as a physical embryo needs its mother's womb in which to grow, so the spiritual embryo needs to be protected by an external environment that is warm with love and rich in nourishment, where everything is disposed to welcome, and nothing to harm it." Ibid p 34, Chap 6

"There is an interchange between the individual, the spiritual embryo, and its environment. It is through the environment that the individual is molded and brought to perfection. A child is forced to come to terms with his surroundings and the efforts entailed lead to an integration of his personality."
Ibid p 35, Chap 6

Study guide

The Absorbent Mind - Chapter 7

The Secret of Childhood - Chapter 6

Montessori: A Modern Approach - pp30-31

Journal articles

Short, S (1985) 'Montessori Education from the Viewpoint of Analytical Psychology', Paper presented at the Annual Seminar of the American Montessori Society, Washington, April 19-21

Archive resources

Boyd, W (1917) From Locke to Montessori, George Harrap & Co London.

Culverwell, E (1913) The Montessori Principles and Practice, G.Bell & Sons, London.

Kilpatrick, W (1915) Montessori Examined, Constable, London.